Outer Limits – Relativity Theory (02/27/98)

Woohoo!  The crew of the USS Something has reached Tau Gamma Prime!  It is “an unspoiled planet with no signs of intelligent life,” a condition which will not change after their landing.

Xeno-biologist Teresa Janowitz explains the plants look similar to earth’s “because they’re based on photosynthesis.  You get the same amount of sunlight on the same-sized planet, survival of the fittest will give you the same types of trees.”  See paragraph one.

They land the ship on the planet which, like every planet in SF, has 2 moons. [1] It is full of resources that will make the team rich.  “The earth is almost out of resources.  No one’s found a new titanium deposit in years.  Petroleum’s just a memory” and Al Gore is still saying we have just 10 more years until it’s too late.

Perimeter weapon in action.

They’re enjoying a nice day in the woods until Corporal Judith Mason gets hauled up in a spring trap and killed.  This isn’t good news for the crew as they have lost a friend,  it leaves them short-handed, it is evidence of an aggressive native population, and it leaves one woman alone on the planet with four dudes four dudes on a planet with one woman.

That night, they are attacked again and another crew-member is killed. They high-tail it back to the ship. Once safely inside, they “activate perimeter weapons” which mostly just seem to fire 45 degrees straight down into the ground.

The next day they suit up in armor and arm themselves.  They need to clear out the locals so they can survey the planet and collect their commissions.  They follow a trail of snot blood until it leads them to some bleepin’ dead aliens.  They kill off some other aliens later and recover a mysterious object.  It really feels like they were padding out the story.

In fact, yada yada to the rest of it.  It was a fine episode, but not worth recapping every beat.  The object turned out to be a beacon.  The aliens they killed were basically children on a camping trip.  The aliens tap into the ship’s computers and locate earth.  Like the aliens in Trial by Fire, they decide the appropriate response to a few inadvertent deaths is to destroy the earth.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Would also have accepted two suns.
  • Title Analysis: Seems pretty random.
  • Director Ken Girotti has had a huge career, so who am I to criticize?  OK, he did seem to be way too in love with close-ups in this episode.  Luckily, Melissa Gilbert made this very tolerable.





Outer Limits – In the Zone (02/20/98)

“The Ageless One” Tanner Brooks has just slammed something into something to win The World Octal Federation match.  He has seen better days, though, and isn’t even in the top 10 anymore.  He gets a visit in his dressing room from Michael Chin who says he can help him win the championship.  To prove it, Chin speeds around the room at super speed.

Brooks goes to see Chin at his lab.  He explains that his process accelerates the human neuro-musculature system so that a person can react to events in a much shorter time scale.  Brooks subjects himself to the process.

His next match is against a woman, Helen “The Hammer” Draybeck.  This is a pretty lousy test of his skillz.  While the lovely Ms. Draybeck could no doubt kick my ass, I don’t know of a single sport where strength is an asset that a woman can beat a pro-level man.

Helen: You feeling good today?

Brooks:  My health insurance is all paid up.

Helen: You won’t be.

Are they even working from the same script?  Helen dominates him in the match and is fairly easily able to grab the ring.  Rather than stuffing it in the slot, she holds it up and milks cheers from the audience.

She has only a few seconds of screen time, but she’s getting the rest of the pictures. Go figure.

Dr. Chin’s process kicks in.  Brooks is able to move at super speed to yank the ring out of Helen’s hand and slam it home for a victory.  That leaves Helen baffled, although the ref, the ring announcer, the press, and the fans seem to have not noticed that he moved at about 500 MPH to do it.

Brooks goes on with more treatments and wins repeated victories in the arena.  Afterward, in the shower, he begins to see the water falling in slow motion.  Outside, he sees a fan about to be hit by a truck and exhibits the usual tropes:  1) victim “saved” by being pushed away to safety so quickly that the truck would have actually had less impact, 2) the driver doesn’t stop to complicate the narrative.

Brooks finally gets his title shot.  When he goes up against his younger, stronger opponent, he kicks his ass.  He is easily able to grab the ring.  Before he can put it in the slot, however, he begins to go out of synch with this reality and appears to vanish.

There was a funny shot of Pasdar that made him look really fat, but Helen wasn’t in it.

His wife and, for some unfathomable reason the ring announcer, go to Chin’s lab. Brooks’ wife goes through the same process to try to rescue him.  When she goes into the same hyper-state as Brooks, Chin and the announcer appear to be frozen to her.  She believes Brooks went back to the arena, so makes her way through the frozen city to find him.

Blah blah blah.  This version of The Outer Limits has always gone heavy on sentimentality.  They usually pull it off far more successfully than the 1980s Twilight Zone.  Sometimes, however, the score and an actor as uninteresting as Adrian Pasdar can sink the episode.  And this is in spite of an interesting story, Pat Morita as Chin, and a Selena Gomez look-alike as his wife.

Outer Limits was pushing its luck here.  If you are going to put the word Zone in a title, it had better be great.  And it really better not make you think of a Twilight Zone episode with the same gimmick.  Or a 1980s Twilight Zone episode.  The super-fast person / frozen masses trope is a classic, and I dig it every time (like also on Star Trek episodes); just maybe use a different title.

Other Stuff:

  • Helen fought in American Gladiators as “Ice”.
  • Kudos to Adrian Pasdar for great agility in the arena.
  • It would just be churlish to point out the super-speedy person would burst into flames.

Outer Limits – In Another Life (02/16/98)

TV is never satisfied.  Ya got a dude, he has to have an evil twin.  Ya got twins, ya got to throw in an evil triplet.

We get a fabulous walk through the fabulous offices of Eigenphase Systems.  And I mean, they are really fabulous — modern, open, airy, well-lit, great views and a dude crying in his office.  Mason Stark is looking at a picture of his dead wife Kristin, and remembering how he was more useless than Thomas Wayne in an alley protecting her from a mugger.  It doesn’t help his mood that he has just been sacked for, as far as I can tell, wearing a sweater-vest to work.  A co-worker helpfully reminds him that his severance package includes psychiatric coverage.

About a dozen people are staring at him — stupid clean, open, airy, well-lit offices!  He slams the door and closes his vertical blinds.  He pulls a pistol out of his desk drawer and moves it toward his head.  Before he can do anything crazy, he is transported to an alternate reality where he ends up nekkid on the floor.  Thankfully, a couple of guards show up immediately with a gown and drag him away.  He is shown three cells which each contain a duplicate of him.

Mason is strapped to a chair.  Another duplicate wearing a necktie enters.  We’ll call him Mr. Stark.  See, maybe if Mason had worn a proper suit to work instead of a silly sleeveless sweater, he’d be Mr. Stark.  He begins interrogating Mason.  He asks about the time when he was 15 and his father beat him.  Mason just took it, but Mr. Stark says he kicked the old man’s ass.  Mr. Stark asks if Mason married Kristin.  He says he did, but describes how she was killed because he was too scared to try to save her.  Mr. Stark explains he invented a Quantum Mirror to bring Masons from other realities.

He plays a hologram of the first Mason he brought through.  He arrived nekkid with a huge wound on his forehead.  On the screen, he is called Mason #001.  For some reason, Mr. Stark took him home.  That night, he found #001 with a knife to his wife’s throat.  In a rage, he slit her throat and escaped.  Mr. Stark brought Mason here to stop #001 before he kills again.

Now that Mr. Stark has a relatively sane Mason, he can start returning some of the other Masons although he can only get store credit.  He fires up the Quantum Mirror, and brings in one of the Masons.  Pictures of thousands of other Masons flash by.  Mr. Stark explains that the QM is searching for the right reality to return him to.  What’s weird is that the QM finally stops on #001, and that Mason is transported back to his reality.  But wait, this can’t be right — homicidal-headwound Mason was #001!  And just search in order next time!  You went through 500 of these before finding the right one was #001, dumbass.

#001 commences killing Mason’s friends, or whatever you call people who gawk at you as you are weeping in despair and seconds from suicide.  Meanwhile, Mr. Stark tells Mason that in this reality 1) Kristin is alive, 2) she and Mr. Stark are not married, and 3) she got a D-cup boob job (although, frankly, I think the last one was just a ruse to reel him in).

Mr. Stark believes #001 is “killing everyone close to me — my wife, my business partners.”  Mason corrects him that he is looking at this from his point of view, not #001’s.  He confesses that before he was beamed to this reality, he was going to kill himself, and also thought about massacring everyone in his office.  He even had a flash of other realities where that actually happened.  He thinks #001 is “just trying to put things back the way they are supposed to be.”

Wait, I thought the Mason with the head wound was #001.

They agree “that jerk Balmer” is most likely to be next.  Mr. Stark says there is a car waiting downstairs, hands Mason a key-card, and a gun, and tells him to go to Balmer’s office and kill him.   So Mr. Stark’s plan is to send a man — who looks just like him, uses his car, uses his key-card, leaves behind his identical DNA and fingerprints — to commit a murder?  How did this guy get to be successful CEO?  The callous murder, I understand; but the inattention to detail!

Mason goes to Eigenphase Financials, a division of Eigenphase Systems, a subsidiary of The Squim Group [1].  He finds #001 has killed a woman and has Balmer tied to a chair.  #001 says, “Come on Balmer, how do you like my version of a severance package?” and belts him.  Oooooh, sorry — the correct follow-up would have been to sever his pinky with a cigar-cutter.  See, sever?  Has this guy seen no 1980’s action movies?  #001 shoots Balmer and gets away because Mason hesitates to shoot him.

Mr. Stark sends Mason to a park where he sees his wife, dead in his reality, sitting on a bench.  #001 shows up and Mason punches him out, telling him “to leave Kristin alone!”  #001 says he is just there to spare Mason some embarrassment.  As they watch, a man joins Kristin on the bench.  They are clearly a couple, or else this guy is one smooth operator.

Mason and #001 talk it out.  #001 explains that Mr. Stark, despite his wealth — and they agree, his devilishly good looks — is not happy.  He was using the Quantum Mirror to find a happy version of himself.  He then planned to switch places with him.  He ended up grabbing #001 because he “looked happier than any other Mason he’d ever seen.”  #001 admits this was true “because I had just killed everyone I hated.”  Woohoo!

#001 blackmails Mason into helping him kill Mr. Stark.  They go back to Eigenphase, but Mr. Stark shoots #001 first.  Mr. Stark then forces Mason back into the Quantum Mirror.  There is a merry mix-up — #001 and Mr. Stark are beamed back to the wrong realities.  Mason stays behind in Mr. Stark’s reality where he approaches Kristin in the park, totally c*ckblocking the dude she was smooching earlier.  I’m sure they will be very happy . . . until DNA, eyewitnesses, fingerprints, phone records and security cameras link him to multiple homicides.  So, happy until then.

Another fine episode.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Where did I get that?  It feels like Arrested Development or the criminally underrated Better Off Ted, but is too obscure even for Google.  It was randomly weird enough for me to remember for several years.
  • All this Mason talk and I couldn’t work in the Illuminati anywhere?

Outer Limits – Hearts and Minds (02/06/1998)

A squad of soldiers is positioned outside of a factory.  Their scanners read an “infestation” in the Pergium factory.  And infestation is the right word as their enemy is are is giant bugs.  At the captain’s signal, they begin streaming laser blasts in from half a mile away which doesn’t seem all that effective.  The fire from the distant rifles is deadly, but must be targeted on the individual bugs.  What they really need are missiles, rocket-launchers or a really big shoe.

Since the satellites aren’t in range, the squad must go in to confirm the bugs have been squashed.  They all “juice-up” by taking hits of an antibiotic that prevents them from getting cooties from the enemy.

They enter the factory and find 11 bleeping dead alien bodies in a hallway.  How exactly did they die inside the factory from those laser shots?  Ricochets?  Lt. Rosen takes a blast to her vest, but is able to kill the last alien.

The squad then travels through caves to the munitions plant.  En route, Rosen discovers the bullet damaged her juicer so she has not been getting her antibiotics or roughage.  If they encounter an alien, she is guaranteed to die, but she bravely goes on.  They do find one, but she is able to shoot him from a distance.  She has trouble focusing and feels like a murderer.

This group of people is more bland than the Alien: Covenant crew.  While the men are merely dull and all need a shave, the two women are indistinguishable.  Both are dressed in black with short dark hair and black berets.  Both have dark eyes and a microphone coming out of their helmet.  In addition, most of the scenes are not well-lit, so you just have a group of uninteresting, interchangeable grunts.

Turns out Rosen — I guess the other woman has a name, but I have no idea what it is — swapped the antibiotic in their juicers with Folger’s glucose to prove it was a ruse.  So they fear they are not only vulnerable to the alien cooties, but diabetes as well.  One of the dudes — who also probably has a name — puts a gun to her head.  She says the juice was actually a drug to make them fight and to hallucinate the enemy as aliens.  She believes the man she killed was with the Asian, not alien, coalition.  The government is behind this to protect the profits of Big Pergium.

To prove her theory, she leads the squad to meet the enemy.  When they see the enemy, they are indeed humans although the scene is so darkly lit, the effect is diminished.  Having always been targeted by this group, of course, the Asians run from the American squad like they were a giant fire-breathing lizard.

They try to make nice with an Asian worker left behind.  They lay down their rifles.  The Asian coalition returns, however, and lights their asses up.  Of course, they are on the same juicing drug as the American coalition, so see them as attacking monsters.

C’mon, Vulcan wasn’t that close in the Star Trek reboot!

It took me two viewings to appreciate this episode.  After the first, I considered it to be a slow, padded-out slog.  A day later, however, I appreciated it much more.[1]  The characterization, as mentioned before is pretty slim, but there are many other elements to make up for that weakness.  Some of them might be looked upon as cliches or standard tropes, but there is a reason they are used so much.

The grunts question the mission.  I’m sure this has gone on forever, but in the modern era it invokes memories of Viet Nam.  When I hear them talking about the corporate Pergium profits, I hear Mr. X taking about Bell Helicopter, General Dynamics and Brown & Root.  So it goes.

It can’t be an accident that the enemy here was the Asian coalition — especially since I can’t remember a single Asian actor in The Outer Limits up to now other than Jade.  It was an interesting parallel to the Japanese being portrayed as non-human in WWII propaganda.

The other outstanding element was the settings and set design.  From the canyons of the opening scenes, to the caves, to the factories, everything just looked great.

Original Assessment:  Episodes like this are why I can’t do this 365.  So some good does come out of them.

Revised Assessment:  Despite some interchangeable characters, the ideas and production design won me over.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I was actually willing to drop $15 more bucks to give Alien: Covenant the same opportunity, but it only lasted 2 weeks at my theater.[2]
  • [2] Sorry, AMC & Regal, I’ve been spoiled by comfy recliners and booze at the theater.  Mostly the booze.
  • Title Analysis:  Another Viet Nam reference.  A neat little encapsulation of how their hearts will change now that their minds are clear.  You know, if they hadn’t all been killed.
  • The fictional Pergium was also mentioned in the original Star Trek.

Outer Limits – The Hunt (01/30/98)

Four people are taken out to the woods for a nice weekend of hunting.  The other four, that is. These four are going to be hunted for sport.[1]

They wisely take off running immediately.  Clute Nichols, his brother George, and nephew Eric pursue them with a guide.  George nails one, literally, with a steel arrow.  I don’t what kind of iBow he is using — it has a red light, but doesn’t seem to have any technology built into it.

When they arrive at the body, their guide Pete skins the victim, revealing him to be an android.  I can see no point to the skinning.  Yes, they are trying to emulate an actual hunt, but this is just crazy.  It is traditional in these hunts to keep the CPU as a trophy. Wouldn’t most dudes rather keep the head, though?  A moose-head is pretty sad, but a row of shiny terminator noggins on the mantle — awesome!

While they are taking pictures beside their skinned trophy, Clute’s nephew Eric is clearly not on board with the concept.  George explains the robots are destined for the scrap-heap anyway.  Environmentalists made sure animals couldn’t be hunted.  Clute tells Eric his grandfather killed polar bears on the tundra and lions on the Serengeti, like that’s a good thing.

George showing off the CPU of which he could only remember 2/3 of the name. Kudos for putting his cap on the dead android.  “Hey, look at me — I’m a hunter, I’m a hunter!”

I don’t know what these robots were used for, but they’re not very bright.  After running away from the hunters, and even after the hunters take time to pose with the corpse, somehow Pete is right on top of them.  He fires a warning arrow to get their attention, and explains the rules.  He says they will have a fair chance . . . although giving them the rules before killing the first contestant would have been a little more sporting.

If any of them make it to the final marker, they will be given their freedom.  They are given a 15 minute head-start, but the next scene is the hunting party enjoying a luxurious gourmet meal in a tent. [2]

We learn that there is a $40,000 fine for hunting androids, but a 1 year fine for hunting actual animals.  The androids have an inhibitor chip which prevents them from harming humans or each other; but they were programmed with a survival instinct.

At the android camp, Doc is working on Tara’s robot hand.  She regards humans as sadistic savages, but Kel defends them.  He says they can’t be sadists because they know androids can’t feel the pain they inflict.

The next morning, the hunters catch up to the androids.  George tells his son to take the shot.  He reluctantly lines it up, then purposely misses.  When George smacks Eric, Clute tells him that better not happen again.

The androids find a cabin in the woods.  There are weapons in the cabin, but the androids are powerless to use them.  Then they find schematics for their systems.  Doc reprograms Tara to be a killer then instructs her how to reprogram him.  Kel is having none of this.  He continues to take the human’s side.

The androids pound sharpened stakes into a log and hoist it above the trail,  When George breaks the trip wire, it swings down, one of the spikes slicing his stomach.  They go to the same cabin to bandage George. When they find the plans, Clute explains that they could be used to remove the inhibitor chip.  Clute left the plans and weapons there for the androids.  He says he is just giving George what he asked for — “to go on a real hunt.  Like the days before they were outlawed.”  Back when polar bears and lions had weapons, I guess.

Clute remembers when hunting involved skill and danger.  Just as George thinks his son is a wimp for not wanting to kill androids, Clute thinks his brother is soft for wanting to shoot “fish in a barrel”.  Hunting means “going after your prey on a level playing field.”

Now that the androids have a chance, however, Mr Level Playing Field  breaks out rifles with digital scopes.  Clute and Pete go scout around, telling George to stay put.  Naturally he drags Eric off into the woods, enabling Tara to steal some rifles.  Clute wings Doc, but Tara and Kel are able to help him escape.

After Clute sees the rifles have been stolen, he gets serious.  He again sees Doc and this time kills him, giving a big laugh.  They pursue Kel and Tara with mini-rocket launchers.  Tara is able to corner Pete and Eric.  Kel convinces her not to kill them, but to use them to negotiate a truce.

Kel suspects Pete is a android and slices him open.  He is an android who was once hunted.  He made it to the final marker and won his freedom.  They let Eric go, but the idiot George ends up shooting his son by accident.

Yada, yada, Clute and Tara end up dead also.  Pete and Kel get to the final marker and a game warden says Kel is free because he survived an illegal hunt.  He says he’d rather go back to the mines than live around humans.  So he is neutered and becomes a guide.

Another fine episode.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] That would have made more sense if I had grabbed the right picture.
  • [2] It is explained that the robots run on solar power, so they aren’t going to get very far at night. They are still moving around, though, so they could have made it a few miles.